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Job Cut After Phone Concerns Raised
Telstra staff complaining of illnesses when using mobile phones had their appointments with a neurologist cancelled by company lawyers - despite Telstra's chief medical officer requesting the examinations.
Within weeks of referring four staff to the neurologist, and having grown increasingly concerned about a potential link between mobile phones and health, Bruce Hocking, Telstra's chief medical officer for 18 years, was told his job had been abolished because his activities "were not relevant to core business".
After learning that company lawyers had cancelled the appointments without consulting him in early 1995, Dr Hocking protested to Telstra's legal department, saying he sensed "a strong conflict of interest in these matters between our duties to the shareholder, the employees and our customers. I believe this is an appropriate matter to refer to the Telstra ethics committee".
Dr Hocking's claims have been made in a submission to a Senate committee now inquiring into the effects of electromagnetic radiation, and are detailed today in a special investigation in Good Weekend into the growing debate over mobile phones and health.
The investigation has found that:
One of Australia's largest law firms, Maurice Blackburn Cashman, is considering launching the country's first test case alleging a link between mobile phone radiation and health.
The Senate inquiry chairwoman, Democrat Senator Lyn Allison, has claimed there was a "distinct pattern emerging of funding not being made available to those doing certain research". Her allegation comes two weeks after the National Health and Medical Research Council denied more funding to an Adelaide-based scientist, who believed a preliminary study into the effects of mobile phone radiation on mice might have implications for the development of cancers.
A Telstra spokeswoman said the staff appointments with the neurologist had been cancelled because normal company occupational and health procedures had not been followed.
She said Dr Hocking's job had been abolished because of a decision to outsource his work to the private sector, and not because of his work into mobile phones and any potential health effects.
But Dr Hocking has criticised Telstra's response, saying he considered it "irrational to claim the appointments I made in early January, 1995, were cancelled because of failure to follow an `endorsed strategy' since such a process did not then exist and was only being drafted in March".
The four staff at Telstra had complained of headaches and dizziness when using their mobiles.
Since leaving Telstra in 1995, Dr Hocking, a specialist in occupational medicine, has conducted several studies into the health effects of mobile phone radiation.
He has told the Senate committee that recent research he and a clinical neurophysiologist conducted into the case of a man suffering headaches on the same side of his head where he held his phone had, for the first time, uncovered "a clear demonstration of a health effect in humans attributable to a mobile phone ... there is considerable likelihood that mobile phones, at the low levels of radio frequency which they operate on, are causing disturbances of neural functions".
More than 8.5 million mobile phones are in use in Australia. The industry estimates that by 2005, more than 19 million will be in use.